Santiago

From La Serena in Chile, I travelled to the capital, Santiago. I had been told by Rodrigo, one of my Portuguese travelling companions in Bolivia, not to expect much and that it was not really worth a visit. Well, as I was travelling south and it was on the way, I decided to spend a couple of nights there anyway. Rodrigo was right, however, and I was quite disappointed.

Santiago is a big, modern city. Wide, tree lined streets. Nice modern architecture was in abundance. A modern metro transport system. It just did not fire me up. Nothing to get excited about. I did the  city, hop on – hop off tour and the only place I thought would be worth a visit, the funicular railway, was shut due to a strike by local workers. I went to a big shopping mall instead, which turned out to be the highlight of my visit.

 

La Serena

Arriving back in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile, after visiting the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia, I only had a short time to feed myself and repack my hunchback before catching an overnight bus to La Serena. I did make time to have an argument with the tour operator about the driver who accidentally took us off road on the way back to the border but I was wasting my time.

I arrived early the next day at my hostel in La Serena and was pleasantly surprised by both the city and the accommodation, BleuBlanc Hostal. Very pleasant after roughing it for the previous week. My main objective was to relax for a couple of days but it did not quite work out. On my second evening there, I went on a trip to the observatory at Mamalluca, which was fascinating. Unfortunately, this meant not returning to the hotel until after midnight.

I had to check out by midday the following day but my bus, for Santiago, was not leaving until midnight. I decided to visit the neighbouring town of Coquimbo, which has a large cross celebrating the third millenium. I walked there and back which was a total of more than 25kms. I did manage to sleep well on the bus journey to Santiago, though.

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Bolivia – Day 3

Up at 4.30 AM to make an early departure for the salt flats of Uyuni, in Bolivia. The largest in the world, apparently. Our vehicle was the last to leave and Mario, the driver, did his best to get us into a good position to watch the sunrise. He made it with seconds to spare.

After watching the sunrise, we made our way to the “island” of Incahuasi situated in the salt flats. There was not much to see except lots of cacti and the surrounding salt flats of the Salar de Uyuni.

After Incahuasi, we had a little time to think of things to do on the salt flats while waiting for other things to do.

The last part of the tour was a visit to the train cemetery.

Click on pictures for a slide show.

 

Bolivia – Day 2

On the second day in Bolivia, I was glad to get an early start and get away from the fumes in the “hostal”, which came from the dining room floor which seemed to have been washed with diesel.

The first stop was an incredible display of natural stone “art”.

From the rocks, we continued through the mountains and volcanoes to another lagoon.

On then to a stunning display from nature. A volcano had blown its top and deposited it over a vast area. Some of the lumps of lava having been shaped by nature and interpreted by the natives. You can use your own imagination.

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Bolivia

After more than 4 months in Perú, I crossed the border into Chile. I stayed there, in the city of Arica, long enough to celebrate my birthday and to get ill. It was the worst case of sickness I have had, since I arrived in South America but a trip to a doctor and US$40 soon had me on the mend. I was well enough to travel to San Pedro de Atacama, where I stayed for just one night before embarking on a 4 day trip to Bolivia.

The trip was amazing. The scenery was stunning. The accommodation was basic, particularly on the first night. My travel companions were great fun, as was the driver/guide, Mario. The only downside to the trip was the driver who returned us to the border on the last day. Not only was he surly, unhelpful and uninformative but also a really bad driver. He reinforced that opinion when he took off-road, too literally, failed to make a bend and when he braked too hard too late, managed to unseat everyone except himself.

That incident did nothing to spoil the overall impression of the trip but the tour company, Colque Tours, were not really interested.

The first day started with being collected from the hotel and after passing through customs and immigration at San Pedro de Atacama, being transported by bus to the Chile/Bolivia border. After completing the entry process into Bolivia, we were assigned into groups and to our vehicles complete with drivers.

The vehicle was a Toyota Landcruiser and the driver was Mario. The group was made up of 2 young ladies from Italy, 2 young men and a young lady from Portugal and myself (the not so young man) from England. The others seemed to have no end of languages available to choose from and they all so spoke English except Mario. And so began my sojourn in Bolivia.

From the hot springs, we moved on to the similarly hot and very smelly, geysers.

After the geysers, we made our way to the very basic (not even a shower) accommodation, where we had lunch and a rest before visiting the nearby, Coloured Lagoon. We then spent the night in the basic accommodation, where it was as many as six people in a room.

Lake Titicaca continued

After breakfast, on the second day of the Lake Titicaca tour in Perú, together with my companions Wen and Del, I was escorted to the small harbour by the man of the household in which we had stayed, to meet up with the rest of our party. The islanders took their responsibility of looking after us very seriously, although we only stayed with them for one night. Presumably they would be receiving another batch of guests later that day and have to do it all over again.

We set off from Amantani, to the neighbouring island of Taquile where we would explore, then have lunch before returning to Puno. After dropping us off on one side of the island, the boat set off for the other side, leaving us to make our way over the top.

Although the cultures of all three islands we visited varied, it seemed that they all had a great pride in their history and tried to keep to tradition as best they could.

Lake Titicaca

Lake Titicaca lies between Perú and Bolivia and is claimed to be the highest navigable lake in the world. It is a great place to visit and has both artificial and natural islands.

The artificial islands, known as the Floating Islands of the Uros, are constructed from totora reeds which grow close to the shore. The Uro people also build boats from the same reeds. They are a friendly people and seem keen to show off their way of life.

From the floating islands, we set off to the natural island of Amantani, where we were to stay overnight, lodging with local families. I was allocated to the same family as, Del, a solo traveller from the USA and Wen, a young lady from Malaysia, also travelling alone. The accommodation can best be described as basic but the families were very friendly and also protective. They also provided us with our meals.

After lunch, we rested, before being led by our guide, Ruben, on an ascent to the summit where we were able to view a magnificent sunset.

After viewing the sunset, we stumbled back down the hillside to our accommodation where we were fed and then dressed in local garb, before being escorted to a local party, where there was traditional music and dancing.

Click on any photo to see a slide show.